Saturday, June 27, 2009

June Expense Report

Okay. I've got 10 minutes to type up the blog before I have to get back to cleaning the house. My mother, father, sister, her boyfriend, her twins, my aunt, and my grandfather will be here with me, my boys, and Marc in about 2 hours. It's going to be a looooooong day.

But, here's my June expense report. Some areas were a great improvement. Others could use some more work.
  • Groceries $589.42 (Huge improvement from last month--$400 less than last month)
  • Healthcare/Medical 562.21 (This will probably be a bit high for a while.)
  • Education 476.60 (This is high b/c I had to buy a buttload of books for next fall and for my dissertation. This should go down a lot next month.)
  • Mom 300.00
  • Car Payment 300.00
  • Utilities 290.00
  • Gasoline 259.48
  • Restaurant 202.83 (A huge improvement from the $400 we spent last month.)
  • Travel 190.00
  • Home Improvement 159.35 (This was a bit higher b/c I did some home improvements in the yard. Dirt therapy.)
  • Insurance 150.00
  • Entertainment 128.43
  • Telephone 111.55
  • Cable 100.00
  • Hobbies 93.39 (This went down b/c I dropped Tobey from karate.)
  • Service Fees 77.00 (Okay, this is seriously all my fault and way too much--six $10 overdraft fees to move money from savings to checking when I don't pay attention and have insufficient funds in my checking. I have GOT to do better here.)
  • General Merch. 62.28
  • Auto 57.69 (Yearly inspection and oil change.)
  • Clothing 39.40
  • Other 40.00
Total Expenses for June 1st - June 27th: $3910. (Not really an improvement from last month. However, my income did go up this month since I'm finally getting child support for the first time in almost a year. Still, I've got some work to do here.)

Overall, medical went way up, but that was to be expected between my minor medical procedure and Tobey's medication. It will probably go down some in the next couple months, but not by much. However, I was able to compensate for the increase in medical expenses with less grocery expenses.

Education was way up, but that was including a Sallie Mae payment and some much needed resources for the fall and my dissertation. That will go down dramatically next month. But, I need to start thinking about the student loan payments that'll be there in the next couple months.

Still, the winner for this month were the groceries and restaurant expenses, which went waaaay down. Last month was almost $1100. This month, $800. That was a huge improvement for us, especially considering that this is the summer when the boys are home and doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and swimming.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Interesting Quote for the Day...

While reading Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things, I came across this quote from The Satanism Scare by James Richardson, Joel Best, and David Bromley about the witchcraft/devil worshipping scares of the fifteenth, eighteenth, and twentieth centuries, and I immediately thought about the recent "Obama is a socialist" craze that's been filtering through the media here lately. (I even saw a bumper sticker at Wal-Mart yesterday that featured the Obama trademarked sunrise with the statement underneath: "Socialism. Poverty Trickling Up")

So, Richardson, Best, and Bromley describe a moral panic as "a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evlauted or resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates.' Such events are used as weapons 'for various political groups in their campaigns' when someone stands to gain and someone stands to lose by the focus on such events and their outcome" (qtd in Shermer 106).

Therefore, question: Who needs the moral panic that Obama is a socialist?!? Answer: FoxNews. "Talk-show hosts, book publishers, anti-cult groups, fundamentalists, and certain religious groups" all thrive on such claims (Shermer 107).

One has to wonder whether the exec's at FoxNews didn't high five each other the night Obama was elected. I mean, would 4 years of a McCain love-in really help their ratings? The whole Obama is a socialist ploy is the gift that keeps on giving FoxNews.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Update on the finances...

So, my goals were to cut my grocery bills in 1/2 and to not eat out this entire month of June.

Update: While I have eaten out this month on several occasions, I have cut my restaurant spending in half, which is good. Whereas I might spend $5-10 per meal for myself, this month, so far, I've spent no more than $3 for myself by eating off the a la carte menus.

I've also cut my grocery bills in 1/2. Whereas I usually spend $200 every 7-10 days for groceries, I have spent this month only $200 on groceries for the first two weeks of June.

Ten more days until payday and when I need to reassess my spending this month.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rhetoric of Autism Speaks

I wrote this blog entry several years ago on the rhetoric of "tragedy" in an Autism Speaks online video and I recently revisited it for my dissertation. So, I thought I would repost it here in case some of my colleagues might be interested.

On May 13, 2006, Katherine McCarron, a three year-old autistic girl, was allegedly murdered by her mother, Dr. Karen McCarron, by suffocation. In the months that have followed, however, autism advocates and disability rights organizations have been outraged with the sympathy Dr. McCarron has received in the media for having the "burden" of raising an autistic child. Not Dead Yet argues, "Recent media coverage of mothers being charged with killing or attempting to kill their disabled daughters solicits sympathy and understanding for the heinous acts." In fact, Autism Speaks, a national organization dedicated to "funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism; to raising public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society; and to bringing hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder," has even produced and published Autism Everyday, a video available online that attempts to show the everyday struggles parents of autistic children face daily.

However, Autism Everyday has came under intense scrutiny in the past couple months for its negative and fatalistic portrayal of autistic children and the struggles parents face when raising autistic children. Critics have charged that this video portrays autistic children as economic and emotional burdens on their families. One alarming part of the documentary shows a mother discussing (in front of her autistic child) how she's contemplated driving herself and her autistic daughter off of the George Washington Bridge. This mother admits that the only reason she hasn't done so already is because of the needs of her "normal" child. I, too, found this video disturbing when I first watched it in late May following my own son's autism diagnosis. I remember too vividly thinking that for these women, "autism" was a death sentence. The tragedy that defined their lives.

A rhetorical analysis based on Kenneth Burke's theory of cluster criticism of the short documentary (it runs approximately 14 minutes long) would supports such criticisms. Specifically, the directors predominately show throughout the movie the burdens and heartbreak associated with raising a child with autism. The mothers interviewed in the documentary make statements that
  • they've had to "give up" their entire lives to autism,
  • "people have no idea" as to "how difficult life is on a day-to-day basis" for families with autistic children,
  • the condition is "heartbreaking,"
  • these autistic children are violent, disruptive, and take the joy out of everyday life,
  • other siblings suffer due to one child's autism,
  • these parents of autistic children are left "angry," "helpless," and "disappointed,"
  • these parents have had their children "taken away from them" by autism, and
  • these parents "cannot accept that we have to throw away this generation of children" to autism.
Likewise, supporters of the movie argue that it "was the most realistic portrayal of the struggles and heartbreaks of autism [...] ever seen. It was realistic, did not just show the 'success' stories, and did not glorify autism" and that the video "really hits home [ regard to] children suffering from different forms of the disorder. The pain and frustration that families of autistic children go through was powerfully conveyed" (Autism Everyday).

Again, such descriptors as "heartbreaking," "angry," "helpless," and "suffering" illustrate the common ideological and rhetorical thread throughout the movie that autistic children are emotional and financial burdens on their families. In fact, the mothers only mention the words "loving" and "hope" in the final minute of the movie and there is no discussion in regard to the children's accomplishments, potentials, or capabilities. The autistic children throughout the movie are portrayed overwhelmingly negative and tragically.

What might be the purpose of funding and distributing a documentary that portrays autism so negatively, especially considering Autism Speaks' mission of "funding global biomedical research [...]; raising public awareness about autism [...]; and to bring hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder"? I believe that the rhetoric within the movie answers this question. If we're to accept that producers Lauren Thierry, Jim Watkins, and Eric Solomon selectively choose the footage that was to be used in the final cut, such words as "cure" and "prevention" further the organization's mission--finding a "cure" and "preventing" autism. This movie, then, helps support the Autism Speaks' cause of raising money for autism research aimed at "curing" and "preventing" autism.

Portraying autism as the tragedy that defines one's life is an emotional appeal that plays on the heartstrings (and wallets) of viewers. Would it have been as effective to discuss the biological or behavioral factors that contribute to the frustrations associated with autism? No, probably not. Seeing frustrated and frazzled, white, divorced, middle-aged women is more effective at garnering a "sympathy" response from audiences than seeing women who deal with autism day-in and day-out but live a relatively "normal" life--a life that isn't fatalistically defined by autism. Who would contribute money for a cause that isn't "terrible," "heartbreaking," and "devastating" in every possible way?

Important to note, though, is that it's sentiments like these, that autism is a heartbreaking disorder that leaves parents shattered and children suffering and struggling, that seem to reinforce the ideology that it's okay to murder one's autistic child. These children, it would seem, bring nothing but misery and hopelessness onto their families. This ideological stance argues that murdering the disabled is probably the best thing for the children, their families, and society-at-large. And, it's for this reason that it's important to identify the rhetorical clusters that construct the ideologies of autism.

However, this ideological stance is not indicative of the entire autism communities' approach to autism research, funding, and support. In fact, groups like the Autism Assembly "share the common goal of seeking acceptance for those on the autistic spectrum, who aim to educate about autism, and who are not seeking a cure for autism. This is part of the global autism rights movement." Therefore, if the movie were produced for a different organization, one that supports acceptance and does not support a "cure" for autism, the rhetorical "clusters" might've been completely different.